Crystallography: So Metal

©Maki Naro

If you'll forgive just one crystal pun, I'll tell you about how the seed for this series started last May when I posted a comic about beards in science. While doing the research, I began to hear rumors or strange practices and seemingly occult practices within the field of x-ray crystallography.

Well, that might be stretching it, but the idea for this series did start kicking around my head after reading about a trick crystallographers use to obtain ideal samples. Veronica admits that it's much easier for her to obtain a good crystal compared to her organic counterparts.

"Getting things to crystallize is definitely a dark art, and you need good, big crystals before you can do any of the fun stuff. I work with metals, so all of the crystallization happens in a sealed vessel at 1000 degrees. But when trying to crystallize something big and delicate like a protein, there are a number of variables that can help—or hurt: salt concentration, solvent, pH, and nucleation sites." "Metals work just as well as organic stuff, often even better. Since diffraction depends on the X-ray bouncing off the atoms' electron clouds, big heavy atoms diffract more strongly than something with relatively few electrons like carbon."

You can learn more about Veronica's work in her comic book, Atomic Size Matters!

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